FrankenScrum — it’s not agile

I recently had the opportunity to talk with a scrum master who works for a very large media corporation headquartered in Philadelphia. I was pretty surprised to hear about the process they call Scrum.

Apparently they can have multiple product owners, like up to 10 or 12. They run scrum teams with as little as one or two developers. One scrum master to five or six development teams is not unheard of and their retrospectives are 5 or 10 minutes long.

I have always heard it said that broken scrum is better than no scrum, but I have to wonder how much benefit are they really gaining with these sort of customization.

Once you start to take away the interpersonal aspects of the framework. The consistency of a single product owners decisions. The knowledge share and personal growth gained from collaborating on a cross functional team. The attention and focus of a dedicated scrum master. And opportunity to identify, refine and improve the process before the next sprint. It starts to feel like a somewhat cynical attempt to look agile.

We also discussed the work environment which apparently leans very heavily on using contractors and consultants particularly in the non dev team scrum roles. Supposedly this has lead to an extremely competitive, boarderline aggressive dynamic where consultants from competing shops undermine each other and are also under constant threat of being replaced.

I find it difficult to believe that morale is high on scrum teams operating in an environment like this, which i suspect would lead to high burn out rates and as a result would go against the eighth principle of the Agile Manifesto:

Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

And as a result I have to wonder how much quality is being delivered, considering that first principle of the agile manifesto states:

“Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”

Though they may say they are “using Scrum”, it really doesn't sound like a very agile process.

When I hear things like this, I have to wonder who came up with the process? It almost sounds like a staunch defender of waterfall based project management was told to “be more agile”, read the Wikipedia page on Scrum and then reluctantly developed a process that superficially sounds Scrumish.

As we hear more and more about larger organisation wanting to adopt Scrum and Agile practices. It begs the question, do they really get it? If you just want to “be agile” and “do scrum” to keep up with the jonses, then don’t bother. If your current process, whatever it may be, works for you then stick with it. But if you believe that improvement is possible, if you think you could be more effective and if you are willing to make the organisational changes to support that belief. Do some analysis, talk to your people, find the framework that best suits your goals and objectives and go for it.

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